In the 1970s, when metropolitan broadcasters wanted to understand racism, this is the sort of thing they’d do: get a room of eight-year-old white children to pour out their prejudice on-camera as their Asian and black classmates sat next to them looking shellshocked. Then put all their parents in a studio together, overt racist next to polite immigrant, with David Dimbleby in charge, as if they were lab rats in an experiment.
Ever since the EU referendum there’s been a revived air of ’70s experimentalism in news. If racism never went away (and we’ve certainly seen a recent spike in racist attacks on both sides of the Atlantic) and we’re out of touch with all those Brexiteers and Trumpists, editors are asking, is the answer to redefine what’s acceptable to broadcast, and be wary of insulting the likes of Nigel Farage and Donald Trump? In the quest to understand, are we “normalising” racism again?
In the US we’re seeing Trump’s White House strategist Steve Bannon – of Breitbart News, which runs headlines about “renegade Jews” – being euphemistically described as “populist” rather than “far right”.
Within a day of the US election result, BBC News Online wrote up Farage’s rambling opinions about President Obama
Within a day of the US election result, BBC News Online wrote up Farage’s rambling opinions about President Obama, made on a small UK talk radio station, without context or analysis. Obama was: “That Obama creature, loathsome individual.” ‘Creature’, pointed out some readers, was uncomfortably close to ‘animal’. He also joked about Trump’s history of alleged sexual assault: “Come and schmooze Theresa [May] but don’t touch her, for goodness’ sake.” No thought appeared to have been given to the impact of giving these remarks a much wider audience via the respected BBC News website.
On Remembrance Sunday The Andrew Marr Show gave the Front National leader Marine Le Pen a lengthy solo interview, in which she smiled and easily ducked a question about whether law-abiding Muslim citizens would be welcome under her presidency.
She matters, she’s polling 30 per cent was the case for interviewing her. Young magazine journalist Josh Manasa tweeted: “You let a racist say they’re not racist without a proper challenge, you let a million racists watching think they are also not racist.”